One of the nice things about producing a blog like this is that it gives me the chance to share all sorts of oddments that have been cluttering up my desk (or my mind) for ages — with some of them, perhaps, being things people aren’t too likely to hear about anywhere else. Well, here’s another one — and there’s nothing remotely ‘seasonal’ about it, so don’t worry! (Boxing Day ennui respected here!)
Since I spend so much of my time in two of the world’s greatest libraries (yes, really: two) it’s impossible not to be side-tracked now and then when something I do or see prompts a thought that prompts another thought…
So there I was, in a large, high-ceilinged Reading Room, looking for yet another name in that prominent British catalogue of alleged notability, Who’s Who — when suddenly the thought occured to me that I’d never heard anyone refer to Arnold Schoenberg either receiving or not receiving an entry during his lifetime (only living people are included in it, you may remember). Was the lad from Leopoldstadt considered relevant enough to British culture — possesed of enough ‘prominence in public life or professional achievement‘ — to be awarded the honour of inclusion? (If indeed it can be considered an ‘honour’ to be listed alongside ‘peers, MPs, judges, very senior civil servants’, and other such agents and protectors of our iniquitous system.)
Since the old volumes weren’t out on the shelves, I couldn’t instantly trace his original entry (if any), or see whether he ‘arrived’ in its pages as an Austrian in, say, the 1920s, or as an American in the 1940s. But as I knew where to find a volume of the same publisher’s Who Was Who for the decade 1951-60, I could certainly look up his name in that — as this would lead to his last entry (if any) in the register, tagged with the day of his death.
And, as it happens, he appears there! Which for one thing means that I’ll have to go and dig out a cartload of Who’s Who volumes to see when and how he was first listed (I do have a theory about that, as we’ll see at a later stage). But the Who Was Who version — which will be a reprint of his final entry, as I said — is of interest for several reasons. In fact, I’ll probably need two or three more postings to discuss it fully; but let me start with just a couple of points here.
Here’s what’s written at the top:
First, note that they are still spelling his name with an Umlaut — even in 1951; i.e. fully 17 years after he arrived in the US! What’s that all about? (I’m aware that I haven’t finished off the topic of Schoenberg’s different spellings: I’ll get back to it in a week or so, I promise.)
Secondly, note that there’s no mention of his US citizenship (he arrived in the US in 1933 and became an American in 1941). Perhaps Who’s Who doesn’t bother with a detail like that (I’ll keep my eye open in future); but one would have thought it fairly important for a work of biographical reference.
Thirdly, there are the details of the two children he had with his first wife, Mathilde (1877-1923). The other week I happened to mention ‘Schoenberg’s first family’ to a very clued-up friend — who, it turned out, hadn’t ever heard that his first marriage produced two children. Geography and chronology being what they are, I suppose its inevitable that we hear and know a very great deal more about the composer’s three American children, Nuria (who was actually born in Spain!), Ronald and Lawrence, than about Gertrud (1902–1947) and Georg (1906–1974) — so it’s nice to be able to post a photo that shows them both. One wonders what their stories were, beyond the occasional details that emerge in connection with things like the dedication of the Wind Quintet, Op. 26 (from 1924: ‘Little Boy Arnold’ was Gertrud’s first child with Felix Greissle [1894-1982] — who produced at least three chamber re-arrangements of the work).
Incidentally, one consequence of people not knowing about Schoenberg’s first family is that they tend to forget how old he was when he was having his second. I suppose it’s just one more manifestation of the man’s inexhaustible energy that he was still siring children at the age of 66!
And, speaking of energy, there’s a nice detail towards the end of the entry:
As UK readers will probably know, the Who’s Who ‘Recreations’ section is really something of an exhibitionist’s playground: many are the entries whose subject unleashes revealing quantities of narcissism by writing some abject silliness like ‘general beard maintenance’, ‘showing off’, or ‘paronomasia’ (all of those from real entries). In the case of Schoenberg — a man whom every hostile critic derides for his supposedly monumental egotism! — what we get is a quietly factual list of three activities we know he enjoyed (though, admittedly, it’s difficult to imagine that he’d kept the tennis going in his mid-seventies). A question I’m keeping in mind concerns his painting: was painting ever something that he’d have considered a ‘recreation’ — or was it an activity that, in his mind, was so intimately connected with the working out of feelings and ideas that, even though he pursued it on a lower level of technical accomplishment than his music, it actually formed part of his ‘work’? If he has an entry in Who’s Who that dates from the time when he was most active as a painter, I’ll be interested to see if painting is mentioned.
Finally (for now), go back and have a quick look at the remainder of the Who’s Who bits I’ve posted here: can you see anything a little bit odd in what’s written — anything that looks like it might be evidence of a fairly monumental screw-up? More on that tomorrow, I think…
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